Will Montano's victory inspire soca singers on calypso stage?

Veteran calypsonians Weston
Veteran calypsonians Weston "Cro Cro" Rawlins, left and Daniel "Trinidad Rio" Brown, right join Calypso Monarch Machel Montano on stage during his performance at Dimanche Gras on February 10. - Photo by Jeff K. Mayers

Machel Montano’s appearance in the national calypso monarch competition and his subsequent victory leaves much to the imagination. The question is whether it is a defining moment in calypso. Will Montano, a king in the fetes and an established soca Road March winner inspire a calypso revival with soca singers vying for calypso monarch crowns?

Calypso enthusiasts are weighing in.

“Judging by how I felt about Machel’s performances in Dimanche Gras, it will make changes,” said Daniel “Trinidad Rio” Brown known for his humorous calypsoes like Travelling Man, No Drawers and Free Show Kaiso King.

“I love the song Soca is Calypso because of what it says. It’s a simple calypso melody with a powerful story. Who don’t understand don’t want to understand. It was performed with all sincerity and no acting. Machel wasn’t just competing for a trophy in the savannah on Dimanche Gras. It was a whole schooling educating students about kaiso and that is what will make a difference. That was bigger than the competition,” said Rio.

Rio said that performance defined a 22-year-old misconception of soca and calypso.

“Ever since I know soca and kaiso it was the same thing, and then Soca Monarch came and it divided. Machel came and settled that problem. The generation listening to Kitchener and Pretender sang about what the music represented. They’re gone and now Machel represents the younger ones who didn’t know the music before the competition divided it. They will take that information and feeling about the soca and calypso music from Machel.”

Rio’s brother, calypsonian and musician Neville “Bunny B” Brown couldn’t contain his excitement.

“My calypsonian in the finals was Kurt Allen, but that performance by Machel for what it represented and what it addressed was a boss. I am not a Machel fan, but I like what he did and how he brought those youths on stage. They’ll never forget they were on a kaiso stage.

“The kaiso melody is not what the purists would want. It’s a lavway melody, a mixed musical influence, but Machel addressed a lingering problem. He bridged a dangerous gap with those youth who only know soca.”

Bunny B said Montano addressed a problem only he could address because of his popularity and background in calypso and soca.

“Nobody could totally hate the song because it included everyone. I am a purist, and I don’t like the melody of the song but he made it work. In one song, Machel addressed about 30 years of ambiguities about what soca and calypso are.”

When he took a music production class in Laventille a few years ago, Bunny B said younger singers all said calypso was dying.

“And look what happened. The Soca Monarch competition died and calypso went on.”

The former calypso monarch finalist said to look to others who once performed in calypso tents to return to their roots.

“Iwer George and Patrice Roberts were originally kaisonians and they could slide back any time. We’ll see what happens now. I’m waiting with bated breath. If Soca Monarch doesn’t come back next year, you’ll see soca singers coming to Dimanche Gras. I love it.”

Bunny B, who was credited with Crazy for writing the 1985 Road March Suck Meh Soucouyant said one young soca singer has already asked him to write a traditional calypso for him to perform next Carnival.

Montano included Trinidad Rio and controversial calypsonian Weston “Cro Cro” Rawlins at the end of his stage performance at Dimanche Gras. Cro Cro noted the possibility of sparking a migration of soca singers back to the calypso monarch competition.

“They might take a tip from Machel. They can take a try. I feel more soca artistes will come forward, and I think it’s a good thing because Trinidad is kaiso and steelband. That’s the foundation. Let them follow Machel and come back into the kaiso. They can pull a crowd. You used to have traditional calypsonians who could draw a crowd, but the judges marginalised people like me who could do that.”

Soul of Calypso made a surprise entrance in the Carnival season after Montano announced he wouldn’t perform this Carnival because he was finishing his master’s degree in Carnival Studies at the University of Trinidad and Tobago.

Musician Etienne Charles, an associate professor of studio music and jazz at the University of Miami understands the power of a performer who combines theory and practical knowledge to music.

“I’m a university professor and my best students are those who have been in the industry for many years. It’s great Machel took part in the calypso monarch competition because he helped shine a light on an event that hasn’t had that record of recognition for years. He gives the history of soca. It’s a viable story we should all know and trace back to the lavway.”

Charles said he didn’t know what Montano’s win would do for calypso as a whole, but Soca is Calypso showcases Montano’s talent.

“Machel is a very studied individual. He has perfect pitch. He can hear a hum in a sound check and tell the sound engineer what frequency to turn down. Whatever he studies he is good at. He has such good ears.”

Simon Baptiste CEO of Question Mark Entertainment and creative director of the Play Whe International Soca Monarch competition in 2020 considers the business side rather than the emotional side of Montano’s accomplishment.

“It’s hard to say anything about the outcome of this because soca and calypso have a different aesthetic and meaning. I think that win is a lot to process at this time and there’s a lot to consider in the future. I do wonder if we will blur the lines of the competition in order to achieve an agenda or result geared toward building more market share. Are we just trying to get people to buy into an event?

Not everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. Calypso monarch finalist Joanne “Tigress” Rowley, who was part of the soca trio the United Sisters, said, “I don’t see what the big deal is about. Honestly, I don’t think it’s going to encourage more soca singers to come to the competition. If they come, it will be because they started there. That’s the case with Machel and Patrice Roberts."

Tigress said the performances in soca and calypso are too different for just anyone to crossover onto one stage or the other.

“But if they want to, let them come, I don’t see anything wrong with it.”

She said Soca is Calypso is a “cute song and you can’t take away who Machel is and what he brings to the table. You have to applaud him for that and keep the music moving. If soca singers want to return to calypso so be it. We welcome you. My song for this Carnival was the Stage Has No Age. That applied to Machel. Let’s see how it goes instead of speculating.”

Montano has left calypso and soca enthusiasts with a lot to ponder.


"Will Montano’s victory inspire soca singers on calypso stage?"

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